Oedipus. Oh dear. I think I may have audibly gasped when my children delivered the news that they wanted me to draw Oedipus.
Seriously, what bits of the Oedipus story are appropriate for children? His father’s fear of a prophecy led him to take his baby son to a mountainside, nail his feet together and leave him to die. Should I draw that? No, I would rather not. Oedipus, of course, survived and one day met a man on the road who he quarreled with and killed in the ensuing fight. This man turned out to be his biological father, Laius, and so Oedipus had unwittingly fulfilled part of the prophecy. Patricide? Pass. Oedipus then married his victim’s widow who was, of course, his biological mother, Jocasta. Incest? Moving on. Finally learning of the fact that he had fulfilled the prophecy having murdered his father and married his mother, Oedipus gouged out his eyes and Jocasta hanged herself. Child-friendly material? No. There’s a reason why this myth kept Freud so busy.
Sophocles’ Theban Cycle is a fantastic triology of tragic plays (my favourite being ‘Antigone’) which I recommend everyone sees in performance or reads. What it doesn’t much inspire is art appropriate for an audience of young boys. There was, however, one bit of Oedipus’ story that was fit for child consumption and that was his meeting with the Sphinx. In order to rid Thebes of the tyranny of the Sphinx and then marry the city’s widowed queen, Oedipus had to solve the Sphinx’s riddle. The riddle posed was “What has one voice but walks on four legs in the morning then two legs in the afternoon and then three legs in the evening?”
My inspiration for my sketch – actually it was more of a blueprint than mere inspiration – was the front cover of my Penguin copy of the Theban plays. It’s a photograph of a picture on a cup held in the Vatican’s Etruscan Museum. It depicts the Sphinx sitting atop a column opposite Oedipus who is deep in thought presumably pondering the answer to the riddle just posed. I rather suspect that the original depicts Oedipus bare-legged but I decided to transform those into natty leggings in my drawing.
Riddle me this!